Free beach getaways and special offers “just for you” are common and generally recognized phone scams which usually end with a hang-up.
But a scam known as cyber kidnapping left one Baton Rouge woman wondering whether she had just made the biggest mistake of her life by hanging up the phone.
The woman, who requested anonymity out of safety concerns, received a call from men claiming to be holding her daughter hostage just after waking up Saturday, Dec. 30.
A man with a deep voice told her to listen to his instructions and if she called the police he would hurt her daughter, addressing her and her daughter by name. The number that showed up on her caller ID was the landline of her daughter’s former house.
Frantic, the woman asked to speak to her daughter.
“Take the tape off of her mouth,” the man said. Then silence.
Her heart sank and she began to get sick as she waited to hear whether it really would be her daughter on the other end.
Another man’s voice broke the silence.
“Listen,” he said calling her by name.
The man threatened to rape and kill her daughter, in more vulgar terms the woman noted if she did not comply with his demand to get in her car and honk the horn.
Scrambling for answers, her husband immediately began calling their daughter’s cell phone but to no avail.
She continued asking the men on the phone to speak to her daughter and grew suspicious when the men refused to put her daughter on the phone.
“I would have done what they said if she would have answered,” she said. “I would have went wherever they wanted.”
Instead, she hung up the phone, hoping she did not just make the worst mistakes of her life.
After getting in touch with her daughter she confirmed what they had desperately hoped. She was fine, had no idea what they were talking about and was spending the weekend with a friend out of town.
The scam is known as cyber kidnapping. Others have reported receiving a similar call with a woman screaming in the background and the caller demanding money be wired for their relatives release.
Valerie Sobel, Founder, and president of the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation fell prey to the scam, wiring hundreds of dollars to the scam artists. She wrote about her experience in a blog for The Huffington Post titled The Day I Was Terrorized By Virtual Kidnappers, a link is provided in this article on our website.
Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, it is illegal for any person or entity transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. However, if no harm is intended or caused, spoofing is not illegal, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The men never asked her for money or personal information, the Baton Rouge woman said.
“They just kept saying you’ve got to get in your car and come meet us,” she said. “I didn’t even think to ask where.”
The scammers use caller ID spoofing, which is when users impersonate representatives from banks, creditors, insurance companies and even government agencies according to Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Caller ID spoofing also makes the men on the other end of the line untraceable.
“The only way to prevent it is to let people know about it,” she said.
Landry released a statement in November warning Louisiana residents of an increase in phone scams using caller ID spoofing.
Landry shared these tips to protect yourself from spoofers:
- If you get a strange call from a government phone number, hang up. Visit the official (.gov) website for contact information.
- Do not give out – or confirm – your personal or financial information to someone who calls.
- Never pay someone who calls out of the blue, even if the name or number on the caller ID looks legitimate.
- Do not wire money or send money using a reloadable card.
- If pressured to act immediately, just hang up; that is a sure sign of a scam.
The Baton Rouge woman is thankful she had her wits about her and did not meet the men or wire money to them she said. But she remains concerned for those who may receive calls in the future.
“People need to know about this,” she said. “It could give someone a heart attack.”
Attorney general Landry’s office encourages residents to report caller ID spoofing and other scams to General Landry’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-351-4889.